22 March, 2019

Three Books I Spent My Winter Reading

"You only read three books in three months?" you ask in astonishment.

Yes, I did. Now close your mouth before some small flying insect thinks it's an invitation. It's spring, you know. Bugs are a thing now.

There were several good magazine articles that passed under my newly prosthetically enhanced eyes during that time. But I've really been too busy writing to fit in my usual volume of reading. Try asking me about my nearly complete novel-in-stories if you want a lengthier response. Oh, but you wanted to know what books I've read since I posted last season's reading list, or else you wouldn't have made it three paragraphs into this one.

First was Amnesia Moon, Jonathan Lethem's second novel. It marked my fourth experience with a book he'd written. (Yes, that's probably too many ordinals. I've been prioritizing more than usual lately.) This particular one is a post-apocalyptic phantasmagoria involving a man with no memory who, with a furry little girl in tow, escapes the desert hellscape he's been calling home, only to find the rest of the world very different from what he dreamed. Misfortune and confusion find the pair at every turn. Nightmares become reality... or something very much like it. By the end, too many hallucinatory detours into fantasy and sci-fi left me, as a reader, on shaky ground. Years ago, Lethem's Chronic City left me awestruck. Amnesia Moon just seemed unfinished. I hope that it's the least of his books, because I know he's capable of so much better.

Speculative fiction has always been woefully lacking in minority voices, but when Octavia E. Butler wrote Kindred some forty years ago, a black woman's time-travel narrative was sui generis. That alone merits acclaim. This much-lauded "grim fantasy" still makes for harrowing SF, as well as a gut-wrenching history lesson, which just adds to Butler's credit. I'm glad that I finally made time for it.

Next was The Enchantress of Florence: A Novel. Salman Rushdie's prose enchants, no matter the genre. Part of the secret to his magic lies in the blending of the crassest profanity with mannered English prose. The effect can be laugh-out-loud funny. As is often the case with Rushdie, fable and fact also interweave here. The wild, intricate, phantasmagorical tale-within-a-tale (plus other tales within that one, besides) treats historical figures, including Andrea Doria, Niccolo Machiavelli, Vlad Tepes, and Giuliano de' Medici, as players in the farce. Notwithstanding his so-so novel on last year's reading list, reading Rushdie has always been a joy for me.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some writing to do.

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